A new study published today suggests that, with the start of actual voting barely a month away, the frontrunner in the Republican primaries remains Charlie Brown’s beagle, Snoopy.
With write-in votes being an option in the primaries, and so many Republicans disappointed in this year’s crop of declared candidates, Snoopy has wisely chosen to extend his lead by staying out of the debates, and making few media appearances, apart from his highly publicized work in the Peanuts Thanksgiving and (upcoming) Christmas specials.
There are many possible explanations for Snoopy’s surprisingly sizable advantage over the mainstream candidates at this stage of the process.
The most likely, according to the study’s author, are the following:
The question is whether, this late in the process, Gingrich or Romney can do anything to stem the Snoopy tide, or whether this has already become a one character race.
Ridiculous, you say? Maybe, maybe not. More importantly, is it any more ridiculous than the “research” that everyone does, in fact, accept—namely that Gingrich and Romney are the “frontrunners”? “Oh, but the polls,” you say….
What is a frontrunner, anyway? The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “One that is in a leading position in a race or other competition,” followed by the example, “the front-runner for the presidential nomination.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the person, animal or organization that is most likely to win something.”
Has our language actually deteriorated this badly? Sadly, yes. A frontrunner is the person running at the front, meaning in the leading position. The Cambridge evaluation “most likely to win” is in no way implied by the term. The American Heritage definition is good, but they muck it up with the example of the presidential nomination process.
To be fair to the dictionary authors, modern society has made a muddle of this by talking about democratic politics the way we do. We call the political campaign a “race,” and we say that someone is “running” for office. The image of running a race is deceptive: it creates the illusion that someone can be ‘ahead,’ or ‘behind’—with the related myth that if a candidate has a big enough ‘lead,’ it might be impossible to ‘catch’ him. And this is where the pollsters and their media allies step in.
Through clever questioning, and by cherry-picking which parts of the results to report, the pollsters play evil genius with the witchcraft of mass psychology. The media, in their turn, choose to report or highlight those results or partial results which help to create the scenario they wish to promote, replete with all the objective-sounding talk of “momentum” gained or lost. For example, on November 15th, Rasmussen Reports released a poll of 700 likely Iowa Caucus participants. According to their website, the poll included 13 questions. In the first question, regarding whom people would vote for were the caucus held today, the candidates were named in this order: Gingrich, Romney, Cain, Perry, Paul, Santorum, Bachmann, Huntsman.
Among the other questions in this poll was this beauty: “If Mitt Romney wins the Republican presidential nomination, how likely would you be to consider supporting a third-party candidate?” In other words, the idea is being planted that Romney, specifically, engenders defector feelings among conservatives.
There was also a short series of questions directly addressing the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain. Once again, the obvious purpose was to get people thinking about those allegations as a problem, if they were not already doing so.
Needless to say, none of the questions asked whether the voter was concerned about Gingrich’s global warming advocacy. And the Rasmussen website does a good job of burying information about undecided voters. So, after a thoroughly loaded and leading set of poll questions, the “results” are released to the media, where they are reported with exactly the marginal interest they deserve, right? At 3:00pm EST on November 17th, the Drudge Report’s above-the-logo banner headline was this:
“SHOCK POLL IOWA: GINGRICH 32% ROMNEY19% CAIN 13%”
And the trend continues. Sean Hannity’s radio show has incorporated Gingrich’s “get a job, right after taking a bath” line into its opening sound bite collection, thus directly associating Newt with Hannity’s conservative brand. Allen West has called Herman Cain a “distracter,” and encouraged him to quit the race—while praising Newt Gingrich through the roof and ‘humbly’ deflecting vice-president talk. Best of all, at 7:00pm EST on December 1st, Drudge had this headline above the above-the-logo story about the demise of Cain’s candidacy:
“Newt: I’m going to be the nominee…”
As though that sentiment were newsworthy. Is there a candidate in the history of nominating processes who has not said he or she was going to be the nominee?
So what is it with all this frontrunner and momentum banter, and why does it seem to be so effective at determining—yes, determining; prediction has nothing to do with it—outcomes?
When I was a very young man, I occasionally had the opportunity to attend a major league baseball game in Montreal, back in the days when that city had a team. During the seventh inning stretch, the big stadium screens would show five dots racing. The dots were undifferentiated; they had no particular color; and their little computer-programmed ‘race’ had nothing to do with anything. And yet, as the dots progressed slowly across the screen, the fans in attendance would become increasingly interested in this silly fiction. As the dots approached the finish line, thousands of people were mesmerized by their motion, cheering for their favorite dot, some of them even jumping up and down excitedly if they thought their dot had a chance to ‘win.’ And the best part of such a race was that if your dot was lagging well behind, you could simply change your allegiance to another, more competitive dot. After all, the abandonment of one for the other was nothing personal; they were just dots.
Recently, as I have posted articles on this forum encouraging American conservatives to keep up the fight for their country, or critiquing the flatness or duplicity of the establishment favorites, I have received numerous comments, both online and by e-mail, saying, in effect: “It’s true, Bachmann is the real Tea Party conservative in the race, but at this point she can’t catch up to the chosen frontrunners, so it’s time to get realistic.”
And this view is not exclusive to private Tea Partiers. On the November 18th edition of his National Review program Radio Derb, popular conservative commentator John Derbyshire echoes the sentiment, opting for the image of a swimming race:
“Michele Bachmann seems to be dead in the water, for reasons I don’t understand; I’d be happy to vote for her in the General.”
For “dead in the water,” read ‘too far behind to catch up now.’ For “I’d be happy to vote for her in the General,” read ‘it would be futile to vote for her now.’ Though I’ve tried to make this point before, I will take one more crack at it: There is no such thing as “momentum” in a political race; furthermore, there is no such thing as a “frontrunner” in a political race. The reason is simple and fundamental: There is no “race.”
An actual frontrunner is a person who is leading in a race. As anyone who has ever participated in a race can testify, you cannot be the leader of a race until after the race has started. A bunch of runners standing at a start line includes no frontrunner. No one has yet gained any momentum. Some may have greater natural talent, or superior training; but such things are grounds for making raw predictions, not for assessing progress. Progress in a race can be assessed only after the starter’s gun is fired.
Is there anything in a democratic electoral process equivalent to a race? Yes, there is. It is the voting. In fact, from the point of view of the ‘spectator,’ it is not the voting per se, but rather the counting of votes. As a child, when I was far too young to understand what it meant, I enjoyed watching election results on TV. My interest was that of a person who likes races, although at that age, the actual candidates and parties might as well have been undifferentiated dots on a screen to me. Election night in front of the TV; that’s the moment when racing fans can satisfy their fascination with detachedly watching the dots travel across a screen.
Before the first real vote is cast, however, the ‘racers’ are all standing in a bunch at the start line. The belief that it is otherwise is a clever media/pollster manipulation of the natural human instinct to witness ‘action.’ We want to see movement, to understand ‘how it’s going so far.’ So the pollsters gradually manufacture a picture of momentum and frontrunner inevitability, and the media outlets choose the pollster-manufactured imagery they like, and make a headline out of it, thereby giving it the status of inescapable fact. In truth, the only inescapable fact is the full weight of personal responsibility each and every voter has on his or her head when he or she steps up to be counted on voting day.
And this is the central point, the real concern at the heart of the matter of our modern, poll-directed democracies. By turning themselves into spectators prematurely—before the actual race has even begun—democratic citizens self-medicate with the tranquilizer called ‘realism’: “Michele Bachmann seems to be dead in the water, for reasons I don’t understand; I’d be happy to vote for her in the General.”
This tranquilizing illusion serves the purposes of establishmentarianism of all kinds. By accepting the Washington machinery’s myths of unstoppable momentum (upward or downward), the voters disenfranchise themselves willingly, perhaps with a little disappointment, but with a guiltless sense of having made the only ‘reasonable’ choice under the circumstances. (What circumstances? The race has not begun. It is all illusory.)
Sadder still, the voters’ rejection of their own preferences in the name of following the momentum and choosing among the ‘obvious frontrunners’ causes long-term spiritual harm, above and beyond the harm it causes the unchosen ones who have not been designated as frontrunners. Such abdication of responsibility perpetuates and reinforces the delusion that ‘it’s all out of our control,’ that ‘in the end, They get what They want.’ At least as long as the electoral process is still in existence, They need not get what they want. It’s a choice made by all those people who allow themselves to step back from the process and pretend they are watching pre-programmed dots racing across a screen. And it’s a choice that deepens the general cynicism and self-absolution of modern civilization, traits that have taken the Western world to the edge of the end.
Turn off the screen. The dots and their meaningless ‘race’ are an artifice designed to keep you happily in line with other people’s goals. Think your own thoughts. Make your own decisions. Cast your own vote. Nothing prevents it, and it is not being ‘unrealistic.’ In truth, it is the only realistic thing to do. Frankly, compared to the poll-manufactured frontrunners of the moment, President Snoopy sounds pretty good.
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